Seven Oaks nursing staff fret about the future, as Monday's emergency room closure looms

The emergency room at Seven Oaks will close starting at 7 a.m. on Monday, with Winnipeg's most serious medical needs being re-routed to the three remaining emergency departments: Health Sciences Centre, St. Boniface and Grace Hospital.

ER turning into urgent care centre as part of Manitoba's health-care overhaul

Leonor Casas has worked in the Seven Oaks ER since 1980. She doesn't know if she will have a job past the beginning of August. On July 22, the hospital's ER will turn into an urgent care centre. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

The emergency room at Seven Oaks will close starting at 7 a.m. on Monday, with Winnipeg's most serious medical needs being re-routed to the three remaining emergency departments: Health Sciences Centre, St. Boniface and Grace Hospital.

The closure is part of massive overhaul the province is undertaking to half the number of ERs in Winnipeg, from six to three.

But with change just days away, many of the 47 nurses who worked in the Seven Oaks ER are still waiting to hear their fate, and worry about the care people will soon receive at Seven Oaks.

Current and past staff from the ER met on Thursday night to say goodbye — some of whom have been working there for decades.

"It is sad. I cried. But you know what, it is what it is. It's the government. I think it's all politics. We gave good care," said nurse Leonor Casas. 

Casas has been an ER nurse since Seven Oaks opened in the 1980s, but does not know if she will have a job in a few weeks, because she's not a permanent employee.

"Everybody will see what happens next week. We will all be here. We are here for the patients. We will do the best for our patients, because that is our main job," she said.

Past and current staff of Seven Oaks General Hospital pose in front of the emergency department, which will close on July 22. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Emergency vs. urgent care

Seven Oaks ER will be turned into an urgent care centre.

That means it will still deal with same-day health concerns than are non-life threatening, like broken limbs or the flu.

But patients with serious, life-threatening medical needs — like heart attacks, severe burns and strokes — will be sent elsewhere.

"It's really upsetting," said former nurse Kardene Campbell, who worked in the Seven Oaks ER for 38 years before retiring a year ago.

"Back in the '90s we fought this once, and we were successful. This time of course, we're not, and it's finally going to happen," she said.

"This area needs an emergency department. To expect people from this area or outlying rural areas to travel all the way to Health Sciences or St. Boniface or the Grace is really unrealistic."

Medical staff from Seven Oaks say they worry patients will still come through their doors in emergency situations, but they won't have the capacity to take care of them. The health authority says anyone who walks through the hospital doors will have their immediate care needs stabilized. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

The province has said Winnipeg has too many emergency departments, and that the closures will help reduce wait times and streamline the system.

But nurses who stood outside Seven Oaks on Thursday said the switches are happening too fast, without things in place in order to make sure the transition runs smoothly.

Concerns over dialysis emergencies

The change was originally slated for the fall, but the date was moved up by the province over concerns about a lack of staff still at Seven Oaks emergency department.

Nurses said many of their colleagues have been moving on in recent months, knowing they likely would not have a job come fall.

"It's a big loss that we have a lot of highly trained individuals here who are hopefully finding employment elsewhere, although I know some of my colleagues are without jobs," Campbell said.

Staff who plan to remain told CBC News they worry people in their area will still come to them looking for emergency care, but now, they will have less staff and capacity to treat them, while beds sit empty in what was once their ER.

They pointed to the dialysis department, which they said every day has people who need to be rushed to the hospital's ER during their treatments. Those patients will now have to be transported via ambulance instead of getting care in-house.

Ambulances will begin re-routing on Monday morning

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority said starting on Monday morning, ambulances will route patients with the highest level of emergency to Winnipeg's three remaining ERs.

But the health authority said anyone who walks through the doors of any hospital will have their needs taken care of, and if need be will be transferred.

"Patients arriving at Seven Oaks General Hospital who need emergency care will have their immediate care needs determined, and will be stabilized within the urgent care if necessary before being transferred to another site that can address their care needs via inter-facility transfer," said spokesperson Cory Kolt in an email.

The goal has always been to "deliver excellent care to patients in the best possible environment — and that will not change," he wrote.

Starting on Monday at 7 a.m., ambulances will no longer bring the most serious of medical needs to Seven Oaks Hospital. Instead, patients with life-threatening medical needs like heart attacks, strokes and severe burns will be sent to the three remaining ERs in Winnipeg: HSC, St. Boniface and Grace Hospital. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

47 nurses in ER switching jobs

As of Friday, there are 47 nurses working in the Seven Oaks ER, according to the health authority.

Based on their seniority, Kolt said emergency room nurses at Seven Oaks had the option to work in the new urgent care centre.

"The selection process took place in June 2019 and there were positions available for all [emergency department] staff who wanted to stay in the urgent care," Kolt said. 

Staff who didn't have enough seniority to get a position in urgent care have until Sept. 20 to choose another position in another area of Seven Oaks, he said.

One of those people is Lisa McLeod, a licensed practical nurse.

"There's me and three LPNs that lost our positions here. So I have to apply for different positions either in the hospital or somewhere else in the WRHA. So I've picked up a position in dialysis," she said.

Lisa McLeod is going back to school in September so she can take a different job in the Seven Oaks dialysis department. She says she loved working in emergency care, but is trying to keep a positive outlook as she begins her career change. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

McLeod will go back to school this fall in order the get retrained to change departments.

"I didn't want to leave here. This is where I thought I would retire. I just loved working in emergency," McLeod said.

"Our family's getting broken up, and that's really sad," she said.

"The day I was told, I had to come into work right away and honestly, I had to fight the tears. But you know what? Challenge accepted," she said.


Marina von Stackelberg is a senior reporter at CBC's Parliamentary Bureau in Ottawa. She previously worked as a reporter and host in Winnipeg, with earlier stints in Halifax and Sudbury. Her stories regularly appear across the country on CBC Radio and CBC News Network. Connect with her by email at or on social media @CBCMarina.